Festivals of Nepal

"Nepal is a country with more temples than houses, more god and goddess than people and more festivals than days in a Year" as said by Sir Kirk Patrick. He was the first recorded westerner to visit Nepal. Nepal has more than 125 different ethnic groups mainly or Indian and Tibetan origin. All theses ethnic groups have a distinct lifestyle and a different tradition resulting in colorful vibrant festivals celebrated in pretext of socio-cultural heritages. The rich heritages of Hinduism and Buddhism have resulted in the numerous festivals and occasions to celebrate. The festivals in Nepal are one of the major reasons behind the strong unity and the tolerance among the people here.

Though the Nepalese have diverse beliefs and ethnic backgrounds, all unite in the celebration of the year's major festivals. Some festivals are celebrated throughout the nation whereas some festivals such as Bisket Jatra, Rato Machchhendranath and Mani Rimdu are celebrated by particular ethnic communities but still observed and participated by the whole country. Let's have a look at some of the major festivals of Nepal. You can plan your holidays based on the festival schedule to make your trip in Nepal a much exciting one. The celebration and festivals are based on lunar calendar so the dates change every year for the festivals.

14th Jan – Maghe Sankranti
It is a celebration of the harvest festival. People take dips in rivers and worship the Sun God especially in the holy river. The dip is said to purify the self and bestow "punya". Special Puja is offered as a thanksgiving for good harvest. According to folklore, girls who take the holy dip get handsome husbands and boys get beautiful brides.

10th Mar– Maha Shiva Ratri
Lord Shiva, the god of destruction and one of the three main gods in Hinduism is among the most popular gods. Hindus from all across the Indian sub-continent and the world including from countries like Singapore, Malaysia and even from North America and Europe gather around the Pashupatinath temple to celebrate the biggest night of lord shiva. The holy men known as Sadhus are the major attraction among visitors. They are seen in various attire and are flying high after smoking marijuana. The wanderings sages, who emulate Shiva, rub ashes over their bodies, give lectures to disciples, meditate, or practice yoga. Devotees pray to Shiva's image inside the temple at midnight and may queue for upto six hours to look at the image. Bonfires are lit, neighbors and friends share food, and devotees enjoy two days and a night of music, song, and dance throughout Pashupatinath complex and in the streets. This is one of the biggest gatherings of people in south Asia after the Kumbha Mela in Allahabad.

12th Feb– Gyalbo Lhosar
26th and27th Mar- Holi (Fagu Purnima) – Festival of colour
One of the most interesting and famous festivals of the Indian Subcontinent, Holi marks the end of the winter gloom and rejoices over the starting of the spring time. It is the best time and season to celebrate; People play with different colors. It is festivals which develops the feeling of friend ship and brotherhood among the people.

10th Apr-Ghode Jatra
Visitors are often amazed by the fine horses of the Nepalese army, and Ghode Jatra is a time for the most graceful of these animals to perform before the public eye. Legends relate that this "horse festival" was begun after the Kathmandu people buried a demon under the soil of Tundikhel showgrounds. They say that he may rise again and cause worry to the world if he is not trampledon by horses each year. So every spring, this victory over evil is celebrated in the Valley by organizing palanquin processions and a grand displayof show jumping, motorcycling feasts, and gymnastics.

14th Apr New Year day (Nepalese) - 2070
The Nepalese follow a different calendar where the first month falls in April. This is one of the biggest festivals for Nepalese. Though it is celebrated all over the country, the biggest celebrations are marked in Bhaktapur, the city of Devotees. The celebration in Bhaktapur goes on for a week in the name of Bisket Jatra. A huge chariot of Bhairav, the aggressive form of lord Shiva is taken around and pulled by thousands of people. Since it is spring at this time of the year you can combine other trips with this festival.

19th Apr – Ram Nawami
This day is celebrated to honor the birth of Lord Ram, the legendary King of Aayodhya who killed Ravan the demon king of Lanka to rescue his wife Sita. This festival also marks the victory of truth over evil.

06th, 07th and 08th May-Tiji Festival in Lo Manthang-Mustang
Tiji is celebrated by the Buddhist people as the popular festival of their culture and tradition. The festival 'Tiji' or 'Teechi or Teeji' is a three-day ritual festival known as "The chasing of the Demons" and it is centered on the Tiji myth. Tiji comes from the words "ten che" "tempa chirim' meaning "the hope of Buddhism prevailing in all worlds - Prayer for world peace" Tiji tells the story of a deity named Dorje Jono (Dorje Sonnu) who must battle against his demon father 'Tam Ru a vicious creature' to save the Kingdom of Mustang from destruction. The demon father wreaks destruction on Mustang by creating a water shortage which, in this extremely arid land, is the most precious life-sustaining resource. Dorje Jono eventually defeats the demon and banishes him from the land of Mustang. Tiji is a celebration and reaffirmation of this myth. Throughout the festival the events and story of the myth are re-enacted. The festival is timed to coincide with the end of the dry season (late winter/spring) and ushers in the wetter monsoon season.

25th May-BuddhaJayanti, the day of birth of Lord Buddha.
The ever benevolent Buddha was born in Nepal, and the religion is preached is the second most popular in the Kingdom. On a full moon day, the Lord's birth, enlighten, and salvation are applauded throughout the valley with celebrations. Swayambhunath and Boudhanath Stupas are prepared for the oncoming festivities several days in advance. Monasteries are cleaned, statues are polished, bright prayer flags waft in the breeze, and monks prepare to dance. On the Jayanti day, people reach the stupas before down, go around them and give offering to the many Buddha images there. On the final day, in a nearby field, courtiers fire ancient muskets as a high lama shoots an arrow at a red demon effigy laid on a ragged tiger skin. He tosses five more demons into the sand to signify the exorcising of the city.

25th May- Saga Dawa Festival at Tarboche, foot of Mt. Kailash
Among many festivals in Tibet the Saga Dawa festival is very famous. This 18 days trip in Tibet has the Saga Dawa festival as the major attraction. The Saga Dawa festival is celebrated on the full moon day of the fourth lunar month of the Tibetan calendar. This is the day when Lord Buddha was enlightened. But actually having been there, to me at that moment it was more like being part of a magic event, something that gets a total grip on all of your senses. So what's going on? Each year, they replace the Tarboche flagpole, a huge pole that stands on the Kailash kora, south of the mountain. Thousands of people from inside and outside of Tibet gather and erect the flagpoles to attach the prayer flags. The flagpole should stand perfectly upright, or else things are not good for Tibet. The whole ceremony is led by a Lama from the nearby monastery. It's his job to make it work 'right first time.

11th Aug-Nag Panchami
This festival is dedicated to the Serpents. They are worshiped and fed with milk on this day. The serpents have important role in the ancient texts of Hinduism and also they are believed to be the source of rainfall by the farmers. The Farmers worship them for timely rainfall and a good harvest.

21st and 22nd Aug- Janai Purnima and Gai Jatra:
A most colorful religious procession of cows and people with peculiar head dress painted as figure of cows goes round the market places. Relatives of deceased of that year send religious groups to join the precession. The 'Gai' or cow is holy to Hindus. She represents Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, and guides the souls of the departed to the gates of the Netherworld. But Gaijatra is not a somber occasion. Satire, jokes, fancy costumes, and colorful processions are the order of the day as people recall how an eighteen-century king rallied his people to cheer his queen upon the death of their son. Those who have experienced the death of close ones during the past year share their sorrow and take comfort in the fact that the Gai (cow) has safely transported the departed souls on their afterlife journey. Young men wearing women's saris, children dressed up as cows, and whimsical characters of all sorts fill the streets.

28th August -Shree Krishnna Janmastami
This festival is celebrated to honor the day of birth of Lord Krishna, the 8th incarnation of lord Vishnu. Hindus observe it by remaining awake the whole night performing religious dances and singing in the praise of Lord Krishnna. The Krishna temple of Patan receives thousands of devotees on this holy occasion.

9th Sep - Teej – festival for women:
This is a special festival for all Hindu women's in Nepal. They keep fasting and worship Lord Shiva for prosperous healthy life of their husband. The unmarried girls do the same wishing for a good husband. Teej celebrations last for three pious days. Women all over the country wear colorful dress, especially red and gather together and sing and dance.

18th Sep - Indra Jatra:
This festival of the rain god starts after hoisting Lord Indra's flag at midnight in important public places. This festival is celebrated as the thanks giving festival to lord Indra for a good rainfall that resulted in the good harvest. The main celebratration takes place around the Kathmandu Durbar square. Besides worshiping lord Indra the dances of masked men representing Bishnu, Bhairav, and Shiva are shown to the public. Once of the major attraction of the festival is the sight of Goddess Kumari in her chariot. This is one of the few time in the year when the goddess come out of her palace premises.

05th to 18th Oct-Dasain:
Dasain is the most important and popular Hindu festival in the country. People reunite with their families and celebrate together. The children get busy with Kites and Shopping. The elderly ones are looking for animals such goat, buffalo and chicken to be sacrificed on the night of 'Kal Ratri' to goddess Durga to celebrate her victory over evil. On the tenth day, the younger ones receive the red mark, 'Tika' and blessings from the elders. The festival ends after 15 days of start on the day of full moon.

5th Oct- Ghatasthapana:
This is the first day of the Dashain festival. Families Sow seeds of maize and barely known as 'Jamara', which is used on the 10th day while elders give Tika and blessings to the younger.

11th Oct- Phulpati:
The real celebration starts here onwards as offices and schools are closed. Brahmins go to Gorkha Durbar and bring flowers, etc. from the shrine there and it then placed in Pooja room of Hanuman Dhoka. The president, Prime minister and the members of Cabinet witness the Army parade and accept the Guard of Honor.

12th Oct - Durga Puja (Maha Astami) - Mass animal sacrificing day:
Eight day of the festival known as 'Kalratri'. Animals (goats, buffaloes and ducks and chickens) sacrificed in the temples of Goddess Durga and also at homes. 13th Oct - Mahanavami: The sacrifices continue this day as well. The Machineries, weapons and vehicles are cleaned and worshipped.

14th Oct-Vijaya Dasami (Tika):
Elders and seniors in each Hindu house mark the foreheads of juniors 'Tika' or red colour mark. Respectable relatives are visited. Feasts are held.

18th Oct- Kojagrat Purnima:
This is the last day of the festival. People worship goddess Laxmi on this day and it is believed that one who stays awake whole night gambling, Goddess of wealth will bestow him/her with wealth.

3rd to 5th Nov- Tihar/Deepawali (festival of lights):
This is second biggest festival of Hindus in Nepal. It is also known as festival of lights, is a time of candlelight, tinsel decorations and festive colored sweets. On different days, there are offerings and small celebrations for crows, dogs, cows and oxen. On the night of Laxmi Puja, garlands are hung and lamps are lighted to invite Laxmi, the goddess of wealth into the home and offices. Mha Puja, the New Year's Day according to the Nepal Era, is the day of the self, when people gives themselves blessing to remain healthy and happy for the rest of the year. Bhai Tika, the last day of Tihar, is the day when sisters make offerings to their brothers. The ritual of breaking wall nuts, putting on garlands of makhamali flowers and encircling brothers in rings of mustard oil protect them from Yama, lord of the Netherworld. The first day of the festival people worship 'crows' and on the second day 'dog' is worshipped in the morning and is given good food to eat.

3rd Nov-Laxmi Puja:
The locals decorate their houses and light candles and lamps and welcome the goddess of wealth. They worship the goddess and pray her for a prosperous life. Girls walk around on these evening door to door singing songs and collect donations.

4th Nov - Gai Puja (Gobardhan Puja):
Hindus worship cows and regard this animal as mother.

05th Nov - Bhai Tika:
Last day of the 'Tihar', sisters mark their brothers' forehead with Tika, garland, sweets and pray for their long life and prosperity.

9th Nov – Chath Parva
This Vedic festival is dedicated to the Hindu Sun God, Surya, also known as Surya Shashti. This festival is celebrated more in the southern plains of the Country. the Chath puja is performed in order to thank Surya for sustaining life on earth and to request the granting of certain wishes. The Sun, considered the god of energy and of the life-force, is worshiped during the Chath festival to promote well-being, prosperity and progress. In Hinduism, Sun worship is believed to help cure a variety of diseases, including leprosy, and helps ensure the longevity and prosperity of family members, friends, and elders.

The rituals of the festival are rigorous and are observed over a period of four days. They include holy bathing, fasting and abstaining from drinking water (Vratta), standing in water for long periods of time, and offering Prasad (prayer offerings) and aright to the setting and rising sun.

13-10th Nov- Mani Rimdu in Tengboche, Mani Rimdu in Chiwong Monastery - Everest region
This is a Sherpa festival celebrated during the fall at Tengboche Monastery in the Everest region. For 5 days, Lamas and Sherpas gather for "the good of the world". There are plays, masked dances, prayers, and feastings. Demons are quelled and the pious rewarded. The days are colorful and trips to the Everest region are very rewarding.

7th Dec - Bibah Panchami at Janakpur:

All the people of the Hindu world know the story of the marriage of the hero Ram and the princes Sita, as told in the epic Ramayana. King Janak, sita's father, proposed at a test of strength for the suitors of his daughter: to string the great bows of Lord Shiva. Warriors, Kings and chieftains came from afar, but no man could even lift the bow. Ram lifted the bow with ease and when he tried to string it, the bow shattered into pieces. Ram and Sita were married in Janakpur, now in southern Nepal, and their marriage is celebrated to this day. Each year, idols of Ram and Sita are brought out in procession and their Hindu wedding ceremony is re-enacted during a weeklong religious fair. Bibah Panchami reflects the devotion of Hindus to Ram, perhaps the most popular among the incarnations of Vishnu, and to Sita, the model of the ideal Hindu woman.

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